Approach shots/upshots in disc golf are some of the most underrated shots that we all take as players. You might not think so and you might find approach shots as nothing more than easy ways to pick up a stroke and move on to the next hole. But for most of us, approach shots are actually a lot tougher than you may realize.
A disc golfer that has an insanely good approach game is usually not an average player. But not every above average disc golfer has good approach game. Those that are great players AND crush their upshots usually separate themselves from the pack.
So what does that all mean? That’s easy, approach shots/upshots are a really important, yet highly underrated part of disc golf.
As my own distance and putting game improved, I was determined to not let my approach game lag behind. So I practiced, did drills, practiced more, watched videos, read every tip, and learned everything I possibly could to make sure that my approaches were on point. Over time, all aspects of my game balanced out nicely.
So today, this guide is going to bring you everything I’ve practiced, watched, drilled, read, and learned, all in one epic post to show you how to master the art of approach shots/upshots. But before we go on, what even is an approach shot or an upshot?
What is an approach shot/upshot in disc golf?
An approach shot/upshot is a shot that a player will take, after an initial drive, in an attempt to get a player close enough to the basket to putt and complete the current hole.
Approach shots can be anywhere from around 50 feet out from the basket to around 300 feet or more depending on how long of a hole a player is on and how good of an approach game a player has. And even if a player were further out, any second shot could theoretically be an approach shot if a player threw their disc close enough to the basket to attempt a final putt.
But approaches are generally referred to as short shots around 100-200 feet from the basket where a player has a pretty good chance of getting the disc within the circle or closer. All of that sounds good. But how do we get better at approach shots/upshots? Well, let’s get down to business! Check out the following 11 disc golf approach shot tips.
How to throw approach shots/upshots: 11 disc golf approach shot tips
1. Field work…and lots of it
There’s almost nothing that’s going to improve your disc golf approach game like field work…and a lot of it! Pick a time and place to go out for a couple of hours to work strictly on your approach shots. Just that repetition of approach shots alone will ultimately help you improve.
First, make sure to stretch out really well before you practice. If you’re not properly warmed up, you can seriously injure yourself (no, seriously, you can) and that means no disc golf for awhile. So check out my disc golf stretch post here to learn the best stretches to use for your pre-field-work warmup.
Next, I want you to find a good, open field field for this approach practice. It allows you to throw all of your approach discs and track/check out their flight patterns to help you gauge their heights, angles, and speeds. Learning all of this will help you control these discs better in more competitive situations on the course.
Make sure to throw all of your discs on all lines and angles – spike hyzer, hyzer, straight, anhyzer, etc. Whatever angles you will throw in your rounds. Practice those.
Practice difference throw types like forehand, backhand, and tomahawk. The more you practice for your approaches, the better you will get. Approaches will mainly be backhand and forehand but you get the idea.
Also be sure to throw your discs from different distances. Approach shot distances can vary wildly from 50 feet out to a few hundred. So practice these accordingly.
Lastly, make sure you practice approach shots from a run up and a stand still. This will help you get comfortable with both just in case you need both kinds of approach ahot types during competitive play.
Be sure to check out my awesome disc golf field work guide here. It’s a general guide on field work, not just for approaching, but it does have some good tips in it.
2. Approach/Upshot Drills
Hip Mobility Drill
Disc Golf Strong’s quick hip mobility drill will allow you to become more flexible in your lower body for tough approach shots and putts around obstacles. Check out their video below.
The Approach 21 Drill
The approach 21 drill for disc golf is super fun. Each round, a person gets to pick where the disc will lie from about 50-150 feet from the basket. This person then calls what kind of a shot you will all use (backhand/forehand/tomahawk/hyzer bomb/thumber/etc).
Scoring works like this:
-4 points for a made basket
-3 points if you hit basket or above
-2 points if you make the putt from the approach shot
-1 point if you miss the putt but hit chains
-0 points for missing the putt
The first person who gets 21 points wins.
The Landing Zone Approach Drill
With the landing zone approach drill, you will mark off a landing zone around your basket in preferably an open field. Next, judge out the following distances based on the distances in your game: put a pile of your throwing putters about 100-150 feet out, a pile of your mid-range discs 150-200 feet out, a pile of fairway drivers 200-250 feet out, and a pile of your control drivers 250-300 feet out. If you throw farther, just make the adjustment.
Now we will throw all of these discs and try to get as close as you can to the original marked landing zone. Start the first round of all discs with a hyzer angle. The second round with a straight angle. And the third round with an anhyzer angle. If you still want more practice, switch to throwing sidearm with all of those angles as well. Remember, practice makes permanent.
The “This Looks Fun” Drill
This is an interesting drill to try. Basically, head to a course with a lot of obstacles, woods, and areas where you can try challenging yourself. Walk off the path for those really tough or weird shots that will test your mental resolve. Try those tough shots and work on different angles and throws to get yourself out of the sh*t and back onto the fairway.
Before you throw, though, think to yourself, “this looks fun.” Thinking that to yourself every time will help you with your mental game whenever you have a challenging shot in a real round. When you get to a competitive round, and you have a challenging shot, you won’t think, “ah this sucks!” Instead, you’ll probably say, “oh, this looks fun.”
So those are just a few drills that you can try. If you get out and practice, do field work, and work on a lot of drills, your approach game with improve tenfold.
For other drills, just I would go on YouTube and search, “disc golf approach drills,” and a bunch will come up along with some other good videos.
For my awesome drills post, check out, “The 50 Best Disc Golf Drills to Change Your Game Forever.” That’s just a general drills post, but it is epic.
3. Find your routine
Finding a good routine is super important for any part of your game in disc golf…especially with approach shots. There are numerous ways to approach your approach shots and all of them are fine as long as they work for you. The goal of a good routine before you throw is to make it repeatable as long as it works for you. Your routine should should a couple of quick things that you do before you throw the disc to help you get ready to throw. Here is one of the best and most simple routines used by one of my favorite pro players – the great Paul Ulibarri.
Paul Ulibarri’s Approach Routine
-Get in an athletic position
-Get your feet squared up
-Keep your shoulders straight through target
-Keep your eye on the target
-We’re not worried about distance
-Get the nose of the disc up
-Get your wrist over your elbow before you throw
Simple, yet effective for him. But honestly, anything works. Whatever pre-throw mental and physical prep works for you, use it to your advantage and crush your approach shots. No need to overthink this one.
You can also check out Discmania’s post on how to develop a good pre-shot routine here on their site.
4. Find your grip
When it comes to approach shots, your grip on the disc plays an important role. Your approach grip is normally going to be a little bit different than the grip you use for your drives.
The grip most players use for their approaches is the fan grip. This grip is for approach shots/upshots less than 100-150 feet. This is simply a fan grip with your fingers on the bottom of the disc. Instead of gripping the ring on the inside of the disc you’ll spread out your fingers. But even though this is for a shorter shot with what may seem to be a less firm grip, you’ll want a firm fan grip on the disc. AND you’ll want to make sure you release the disc with confidence on every single approach shot.
If your approach shot is a little bit farther than 150 feet out, you may want to elect to throw with more of a power grip. This is normally how I’ll throw my approaches. This power grip is a little bit firmer and will help you gain more distance on your shot. For these throws, you’ll curl your fingers and grip the inside ring of the disc just like you would a typical power grip for a drive. But even though this is similar to a distance grip, momentum won’t be the same when you’re throwing and you won’t be throwing the disc as hard for your approach shot.
In the end, though, your approach grip is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. If you want to use the power grip all the time, do it. If you use a fan grip for every shot you take, and you play well that way, do it. But whatever you choose, make sure you grip and commit. Find your grip and commit to that good, firm, confident grip. Grip is important so make it a priority.
5. Disc and wrist position
For this tip, and the following tip in number 6, I recommend that you watch Paul Ulibarri’s awesome Approach shot/upshot clinic in the video I have posted above (minute 1:48 through 2:58). It will make more sense. But for tip number five, and all of your approach shots, I want you to focus on your disc position and your wrist position.
When throwing approach shots, you want the front of your disc up. This is also called nose up. We’re not just randomly throwing toward the target. There’s a method to the madness. Keeping the front of your disc up, or nose up, allows you to have some touch going to the basket. The disc lands soft so it (hopefully) doesn’t go past the target.
So how do you make sure to keep the nose up? You want to keep your wrist above your elbow. This forces you to get the nose of the disc up and makes it impossible to throw the disc any other way.
Again, I highly recommend Paul Ulibarri’s video all the way through but specifically minute 1:48 through 2:58 for this sequence including the follow through in the next tip.
6. Make sure to follow through
You want to finish up any shot you’re throwing with good follow through. This allows your body to complete the actual throw and not cut the throw off at the peak. If you don’t allow for the follow through, which is one of the most important parts of every throw (including approach shots), you can cause an errant shot and a bad approach attempt. That most likely means another approach attempt.
Even though you may not realize it, the follow through is extremely important and it allows you to complete the throwing motion. A good, complete throw is smooth and balanced and almost always leads to a good lie up near the basket. That’s what we’re looking for in an approach shot. Make sure you always follow through.
7. Playing conditions
The current day’s playing conditions (i.e. the weather) can have a huge impact on how well you play the approach to the basket. For this, I’m mostly talking about the wind. If it’s rainy and wet that could play a part, but there’s almost always wind.
So with wind, you want to make sure that you’re at least thinking about it and considering your shot type and how you’re going to approach in regard to the direction the wind is blowing.
If you’re playing with a tailwind, the disc is going to carry a little bit more. If your playing into a headwind, you’ll have to put a bit more on the disc to throw it farther. But at the end of your shot you want to try and get the disc as close to the basket as possible so as to avoid another shot that the wind could hinder. If you don’t do anything else, just keep the wind in mind.
8. The terrain around (and inside) the circle
Even though I placed this near the end of this post, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. Understanding how to approach the basket may seem easy, but it’s a process that includes different factors like how much you’ve practiced, your routine, your approach technique and follow through, your current playing conditions, and the terrain of your approach to the basket and the terrain inside of the circle.
Knowing what terrain you’re throwing into can play a tremendous part in how well you do on each individual hole so you need to be aware of where you’re throwing your approach shots. If the hole is extremely rocky, your disc could kick out 50 feet away if you’re not careful. If there’s a hill, your disc could roll 200 feet and absolutely destroy you. Or you could throw the disc into the water (like Maple Hill’s hole 14 as seen in the picture below⬇️) if you don’t play it a little safer, your next shot could be a little tougher than you expected it to be.
The terrain inside inside the circle can also play a part in how you approach. If you’re throwing to a normal basket with no hill, you could try a long putt or just try to sink your disc from way out. But if you’re throwing to an elevated basket like the signature elevated basket below ⬇️ at Anna Page Park in South Rockford, Illinois, you want to play the basket a little bit safer and just lay it up.
So the terrain and surroundings play a huge part in your approach and you have to take all of that into account with everything else we’ve talked about up to this point.
9. Commit to a landing zone
This is a really interesting concept that kept coming up when I was researching and learning about how to improve my approach/upshot game. It also really helped me develop a different mindset when it came to my approaches. My mindset used to be: aim for the basket. And while yes, we’re trying to get to the basket, there’s a better way to think about your approach. Change your mindset to: commit to a landing zone or your circle of confidence.
The Landing Zone/Circle of Confidence is a putting reference referring to an area around the basket that’s been defined as the distance from the basket where a disc golfer can confidently sink 90% or more of their putts. This area varies from disc golfer to disc golfer and is usually a bit closer to the basket than the actual disc golf circle of around 10 meters. You can read more about the circle of confidence here on Mindbodydisc.com.
But the point of having a solid landing zone or circle of confidence solidified means that you can commit to this small area for your approach shots instead of committing to a tiny target like the basket. This will open up your approach game a bit and let you breathe. All you have to do now is get your disc within that small area that you can confidently putt from and your game will definitely improve.
10. Find your go-to approach discs
In the process of getting better at approach shots, you’re going to want to nail down your go-to approach discs. That will help you out tremendously on the course. And this is entirely up to you since almost each and every person’s preference in an approach disc is different. But finding approach discs that you like and that you throw well is one of the easiest ways to improve your approach game.
Here are three awesome approach discs:
The Harp was one of the first disc golf discs I ever threw and I’ve had one ever since. Even though it’s overstable, it doesn’t really punish you too bad if you’re a newer player. It makes shots off the tee a little tougher but we’re talking about the Harp for approach shots today and for those shots, it’s one of the best discs. Grab a Harp here on InfiniteDiscs.com.
The Buzzz is one of the best disc golf discs ever made and is good for everything but distance driving. You really can’t go wrong with the Buzzz when it comes to approach shots so check it out here on InfiniteDiscs.com.
I love the Atlas and it is definitely one of my favorite approach discs. Try it out here on InfiniteDiscs.com.
11. Use a rangefinder!
Rangefinders are all the rage these days in disc golf and can seriously make a difference if you know how to use them. Besides, their really cool AND a legal way to gain an advantage in competitive play.
For those who don’t know what a rangefinder is, it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s a cool piece of technology that finds the range, (i.e. a rangefinder) or how many feet are between you and an object like a ball golf hole pin and flag or a disc golf basket. A rangefinder is really handy in any situation on the course, really, but can help you out for those tricky approaches where you’re not quite sure how far you need to get the disc or which disc you may need to use. They’re a little bit expensive, at around $125-150 dollars plus, but if they can help you gain a few strokes per round, or just improve how you tackle your distance/approach shots, it could be well worth it.
A few more resources for improving your approach game!
Paul Ulibarri’s Approach Clinic ⬇️
The 5 Best Upshot/Approach Tips from Paul McBeth⬇️
How to Park Every Upshot/Approach Shot by Dynamic Discs⬇️
Avery Jenkins’ Approach Tips on TheSpinTV⬇️
So as you can see, approach shots are super important in disc golf. If you’re a good player looking to seriously up your game, you need to start practicing your approach game. Because your ability to play the approach shots perfectly can take you from good to great player. So do everything you can to not take your approach game for granted and practice it as much as possible. If you do, you’ll get much better. And your scores on the course will thank you.
Don’t forget about the book!
Before you go, don’t forget to check out the best beginner disc golf book on the planet, “The Disc Golf Player’s Manual.” This ebook is packed with over 200+ pages of the best tips, tricks, and advice for new players. Grab one today!